One of the important findings of the MET study was that the reliability of observations increased with both the number of observations and the number of observers. While probably unrealistic for practicing Educators, four observations, conducted by several different observers, was about twice as reliable as an observation of a single lesson. Interestingly, for those components of the FFT that were observed during a lesson segment, 15 minutes gave as high reliability as observations of 45 minutes. From a practical perspective, this means that if both a principal and an assistant principal have been trained and certified as evaluators, the most reliable evaluations are obtained if they conduct observations of the same teachers.
Of course, a full lesson provides a teacher the opportunity to demonstrate his/her skill in planning and executing an entire learning experience for students, and enables the teacher and supervisor to engage in the collaborative observation cycle (see below.)
Overall, my recommendation is that the observation component of a full evaluation consist of one full lesson, and three additional, shorter observations, and that these observations are conducted by two different individuals.
This issue involves trade offs between conflicting purposes of teacher observation. On the one hand, an announced observation, for an entire lesson, gives teachers the opportunity to provide evidence of their skill in planning in a pre observation (planning) conference, and deliver a lesson that represents their best work. On the other hand, some teachers are tempted to do a “dog and pony show” for their announced observation, whereas when administrators conduct a number of shorter, unannounced observations, they can discern patterns in the teacher’s practice. There are strengths in both approaches, which is why I recommend both announced (formal) and unannounced (informal) observations
The Danielson Group recommends a “collaborative observation cycle” process, and it applies to a formal, announced observation. It consists of the following steps:
In a full lesson, a teacher will demonstrate most of the components in Domains 2 and 3. However, this is not always the case, when, for example, the lesson does not include the need for a teacher to make an adjustment to the lesson (3e.) Furthermore, in a brief observation, there may be no evidence for several components. For example, it’s possible that in the particular 15 minutes observed, the students were not engaged in a discussion (3b) or there were no transitions or other evidence of classroom procedures (2c.) In situations where there is no evidence for a component, it should be recorded as “no evidence;” the lack of evidence should not result in a low score for that component.
Ideally, teachers should be observed in the full range of situations in which they teach; an elementary teacher might be far more effective in, for example, mathematics, than in literacy. Or a high school science teacher might do a better job in physics, for example, than biology. The observation of a single lesson would not be sensitive to these differences. On the other hand, if several observations (even brief ones) are conducted with each teacher (ideally by several different observers) then the teacher can demonstrate the full range of his/her skills.
Video is a powerful technology, useful for a number of purposes, primarily professional development. New technological developments enable teachers to videotape their own teaching, review what they’ve captured, and either delete it or share it with colleagues. This practice can make a significant contribution to such practices as Lesson Study, and generally enrich the work of professional learning communities. Furthermore, the software allows teachers to share just a small clip of a lesson (where, for example, they’re trying a new approach), make a comment on that clip, and share just that with colleagues, making the entire process efficient.
Similarly, video can be used for professional development in conversations between a teacher and a supervisor. In such discussions, they watch a lesson together, pause it at different points, and explore different possible courses of action. When used in this manner, the video becomes a
tool in solving “problems of practice” that contribute to the complexity of teaching.
Video can also be used in teacher evaluation, in several different ways:
Teacher observation and evaluation, when done with paper and pencil, generates a voluminous amount of data; keeping track of this information, and organizing it so patterns are revealed, is just what computers are good for.
Specifically, the use of computer technology enables observers to record the events of a
lesson, assign these notes to a component of the Framework for Teaching, share those notes with the teacher, and determine the level of performance. The evaluator can also review artifacts the teacher has submitted, primarily for Domains 1 and 4, and discuss them with the teacher. The teacher can do all those same things, that is, submit artifacts (for example the lesson plan for a lesson, or examples of family communication), review the observer’s notes and their alignment with components in the FFT, and determine an appropriate level of performance in preparation for the post observation (reflection) conference with the evaluator.
Overall, the use of technology minimizes the time needed for the mundane aspects of teacher evaluation, that is, writing in long hand and organizing massive amounts of data, and maximizes the time available for the important part of the process, namely the professional conversations.
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